Monday, June 27, 2016

Online Appalachian photo project includes 300 photos submitted from all 13 states

Photographer Roger May's project to encourage people to submit photos of Appalachia has resulted in a finalized online version, "Looking at Appalachia," that includes 300 photos from all 13 states, each of which has its own page. May, who moved from West Virginia to North Carolina as a teenager in 1989, said the project's goal is "to break down stereotypes and show that the region is about more than funny accents, pickup trucks and overalls," Sarah Nagem reports for The News & Observer. More than 2,000 photos were submitted for the project, which is to be renewed annually. (Lauren Pond photo: Young Mennonites socialize around a campfire after their friend's wedding in North Bloomfield, Ohio)

"When he speaks to student groups about Appalachia, May said, some young people make jokes about incest, poor dentistry and moonshine. It’s going to take conversation—and some brain re-training—to shift those ideas, he said," Nagem writes. "Ideally, students would talk instead about hard work, pride and persistence in Appalachia." May told her, “People automatically think of Appalachia as this other world. ... There’s this assumption that because we don’t have a 4,000-square-foot house and don’t drive the latest car that you must be poor. What poor looks like to you and what poor looks like to me are different things.”

May said he is "especially interested in how Appalachia is 'looked at and talked about' half a century after the War on Poverty brought international photographic attention to the region. He hopes that his project will help create a 'visual counterpoint' to those images," Layne Amerikaner reports for The Nation. Speaking of those old photos, May told Amerikaner,  “I can’t really say for sure if it equally helped and harmed, but at the time I think it certainly served its purpose." He said the photos did “a phenomenal job of highlighting need, this indelible impression that that’s what Appalachia is.” (George Etheredge photo: Asheville, N.C.)

"Which is not to say that his new project intends to deny or gloss over the poverty in the region," Amerikaner writes. "Appalachia’s poverty rate is more than 17 percent, nearly two points higher than the national average. And in some places, the rate is even higher—as in the Appalachian counties of Kentucky, where one in four people, on average, lives in poverty. May says that while much has changed since the War on Poverty era, 'unfortunately, a lot of the problems that existed then still exist now—they just wear a different mask.'”

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